New Delhi: National coach Stephen Constantine feels that most of the Indian footballers do not have strong command on the basics of the game primarily due to a lack of football culture in the country.
Englishman Constantine, who took over as India coach early this year in his second stint, said not focussing on grassroot development over the years has led to the players learning the basics only late in their career.
"Ten years down the line after I left the India coach's job in 2005, I can see the country has moved ahead in some areas. But at the same time, in some other areas, there has been little improvement," Constantine, who also served as India coach between 2002 and 2005, said at a media interaction during a reception hosted for him by British High Commission here last night.
"Not enough focus on grassroot development and scouting of talent at a young age are unfortunately two such areas. Unfortunately, it is about the lack of football culture in this country. Eight countries have so far won the FIFA World Cup and you can see their football culture.
"In these countries, the youngsters start learning their basics at the age of four or five. In India, the players do not learn their basics at a young age and naturally they struggled in their basics when they grow up," added the 52-year-old,who has also coached the national teams of Nepal, Sudan, Malawi and Rwanda.
"During our World Cup qualifying away match against Guam, I asked one of their players when did he start playing football under a qualified coach and he said at the age of four. And, when I asked the same question to C K Vineeth (national team player), he said he started with a coach at 13. There lies the difference," Constantine said.
India had suffered a disappointing 1-2 loss to Guam, who were 33 places below India in FIFA rankings, in their 2018 World Cup second round qualifying away match last month.
Constantine conceded that Indian football has not done well in the last four-five years but felt that the worst may might be over.
"In the last four-five years, the national team has gone down in performance. Even the team was at 171st in FIFA rankings at one time (in December last year). But I assure you that I will leave the team in a better shape. In my coaching career, I have left whatever team I have been associated with in a better position," he said.
Asked how many talented players have come in after he left the coaching job in his first stint in 2005, Constantine said tongue-in-cheek, "I would say India has produced more (footballer) leaders."
He made it clear that scouting of young talent would be one of his main focus areas and said he and his team will fetch talent from all over the country.
"Scouting of young talent will be one of my focus areas. We have conducted a workshop on scouting in Goa a few days back and many former India players some of whom have played under me in my earlier stint took part. They will be my scouts and we now have a national director for scouting (in former India striker Abhishek Yadav) and this team will scout talent from across the country," he said.
"I am not saying that there was no scouting earlier but I want it to be broad-based not confined to only Subroto Cup and Coca Cola (sub-junior) Nationals. The talent pool should be widened for such a big country of more than one billion people and should not be confined to a few states only. I and my team will go to schools and colleges and then universities throughout the country wherever football is played," he said.
"Along with India Under-17 coach Nicolai Adams, we have scouted 27 new players for the 2017 FIFA Under-17 World Cup to be hosted by India and we found that these 27 players are better than those who have been training at the AIFF Academy in Goa," he revealed.
The current national team has been a new-look and inexperienced one with only four of them having played more than 10 international matches and Constantine asked the fans to wait for a while before they start giving results.
"I think the team will need at least 10-12 matches to start doing well but only if I have them with me and train them everyday. The Cypriot club I managed a few years back was doing very badly initially but later finished at the top half in the league as the players were with me everyday."
Constantine made it clear that he would prefer a football system which has the national calendar "cast in stone" and in which there are enough domestic and international matches for the players.
"I would want a system in which we have a national football calender cast in stone and prepared well in advance, where we play international matches on FIFA match days in September-October and the players have at least 30 matches to play," he added.
He said that the I-League lacked quality foreign players and he would prefer each club to have just two high quality players from abroad so that more Indians can play in "crucial" positions.
"We currently have a system of having four foreign players in an I-League club and all of them will be either a striker or a central midfielder or a central defender. Generally you will not have a wing back or a left and right wing attacker among foreign players. And most of them lack quality," he said.
"What I want is have two high quality foreign players. They may be two strikers and in that case all the other positions will be filled by Indians. If out of the two foreign players, one is a striker, then one Indian can be fit into the other striker's role. So, we can have Indians in all positions," he added.
Asked about the AFC rule that says one foreigner out of the four to be recruited by a team should be an Asian, he said, "If you are having just two foreigners in a club, you do not need to have a Asian foreigner. That rule applies only in case of having four foreign players."
He was also concerned about the fate of 72 players left out of the ISL draft.
"I don't know what will happen to them. They have will have limited competitive matches. We will have to see."
He said the Indian Super League clubs have agreed to release players for World Cup qualifiers matches in October and November.
"We are having a camp in Pune from August 24 before the Iran match on September 8. We will allow national team players in Chennaiyin FC and Atletico de Kolkata to play the ISL opening match on October 3. Then, they will join national team camp on October 5 for two away matches in October (against Turkmenistan on October 8 and against Oman on October 13)," said the English coach.